At Kentucky Speedway's inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race last year, I arrived at the track eight hours early. I sat in traffic for about 45 minutes – all from the exit ramp to the track entrance.
I was one of the lucky ones. Arriving from the south (Louisville area instead of Cincinnati), the traffic getting to the exit wasn't nearly as bad.
As the day went on, the traffic got worse and worse. Some fans ultimately gave up and left without seeing the race; others finally made it but were turned away from the parking lots because they were full. Overall, thousands of ticket-holders never witnessed a single lap.
Track owner Bruton Smith had predicted a Carmageddon and said the traffic would be nightmarish. He was right. But one year later, the way it all went down still bothers me.
I can't shake the feeling Smith was playing up the traffic situation to get support from the state of Kentucky – money to help make infrastructure improvements at and around the track. And that's ultimately what happened.
There are new parking lots, a wider highway, a new pedestrian tunnel and a new traffic pattern which should make the entire fan experience much better.
But the cost is greater than a financial one. Kentucky Speedway and Smith hurt their credibility with fans thanks to the traffic fiasco, and I've met fans who are still furious with their experience and have vowed never to return.
Smith kept blaming the two-lane highway last year, but that's hard to accept as a valid explanation because of places like the Smith-owned New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which doesn't even have a highway leading to it and gets the traffic parked just fine.
The problem at Kentucky seemed to be the lack of direction getting into the lots and the lack of overall parking – things Smith knew about.
When Smith made his pre-traffic remarks last year, it almost felt like he wouldn't mind some sort of traffic mess in order to get the attention of state officials (and thus money for improvements). He probably didn't think the traffic would be that bad; but he knew it would be a significant jam-up.
Could Carmageddon have been avoided with a better plan? The traffic might still have been significant, but it wouldn't have been awful to such a great degree. Last year seems to have been a miscalculation on the part of Smith and Kentucky Speedway.
That said, it's hard to be enthusiastic about the changes. I can relate to why some fans still feel bitter over last year, and why others are taking a wait-and-see approach to the improvements.
Ultimately, Kentucky and Smith got the state help they wanted because of Carmageddon. Was it worth it? It's too early to say.